Monday, July 24, 2017

War Orphans: Mouth of the Void (Doctor Who)

I know I've mentioned this once or twice recently, but just in case you only follow these DWAITAS posts, I'm going to be at Gencon next month with my roommate. We should be getting in Wednesday the 16th and heading home Monday the 21st. If anyone wants to meet up and hang out or grab a bite to eat, feel free to get in touch either here or on Twitter (@mythicfox), but try to give me more than an hour or two's warning because we know how crazy and busy conventions can get.

And with that, because I can't think of any more preamble...

So no real cold open this time, just sort of a 'previously on.' Take a moment to imagine rocket trains shooting through the middle of the planet, chaos with Cybermen, and so forth.

Cue opening theme

And after that, the characters[0] have some time to kill since it takes Soren a couple of days to get in the parts they need and Eska just under a week to actually make the repairs. So during that time, the rest of the group just 'tourist's it up on one of the more interesting planets in the galaxy and time period. Mostly drinking and carousing, really.

At one point during the week Eska goes out of his way to track down Veris while he's wrapping up his Cyberman-salvage operation. He thanks him for sharing the bastic bullets and while talking about his repairs on the TARDIS there's a moment where Veris asks if they had a plan since there isn't a Gallifrey around to power their TARDIS. The subject of figuring out refueling stuff comes up, and at one point Eska offers to bring Veris something he can use to reach them (like when the Doctor puts 'universal roaming' on a phone) in the next day or two. Veris accepts, and Eska finds the time to get him a communication device.

Veris heads back to work and the Magpie openly wonders why Eska's so eager to court Veris as an ally, given that at best he comes across as a little shady. Eska counters that he's been helpful, and that they really can't afford to turn down a contact who knows people and things in this new status quo where they're basically homeless and wandering (my wording, not his).

But this transitions into a discussion over whether it's a good idea to build a new Eye of Harmony to replace the one they lost their connection to. Galaxion in particular is concerned, and I think the best way I can sum up the argument is: 'Can anyone be trusted with the raw power of something like the Eye of Harmony given how far the Time Lords eventually went off the rails? How much of the chicken-and-egg nature of the Time War be chalked up to the Time Lords' immense power, starting with the Eye of Harmony?' Eska and the Magpie don't want to be reliant on the Cardiff rift, though, because who knows what that could cause -- and there's also the fact that they don't know where else they could easily refuel the TARDIS and that it's something of a liability to have a place where their enemies could predictably find them. Then there's the logistics problems of making sure they can always end up in just the right time and place to take full advantage of the rift. Also, going after something like the Skaro Degradations without a fully-functioning TARDIS is really dangerous.

In the end, Galaxion concedes the point and the Magpie offers a theory of how to capture a star and build an Eye of Harmony, as long as Eska can build what they need. The short version, acted out with props (napkins and baggies and such) is to create another bigger-on-the-inside field like the one the TARDIS already has, expand it wide enough to encompass a star on the verge of collapsing into a black hole, and basically materializing the TARDIS around it so the star goes into that space. The main problem is building the equipment to make that happen. Eska runs the numbers through the TARDIS computers to determine if such a feat is feasible, and determines that not only is it possible, but it can be done by reconfiguring current systems in the engine room instead of having to spend time and energy building something new. (Basically, taking the equipment that would normally create a connection to the Eye of Harmony on Gallifrey and reconfiguring that to be more of a bubble in space rather than a portal)

So they go through the TARDIS databanks looking for a suitable star -- nothing too weird, nothing actually secretly alive, and nothing that'll be missed by history. They find one out in the Fireworks Galaxy in the year 4053, called "28th Additional Star of the Celestial Hook"[1], dial up the coordinates on the control panel, and pilot the TARDIS over there. So they get to the star to find it getting ready to make that final collapse into a black hole... but there's also an unexpected ship orbiting it.

Captain Leonard Rearick of the Research Ship Remora hails them. They quickly scan the ship: Certainly appears to be a standard research vessel, very lightly armed, 60 humans, 12 Ood. The Magpie answers the hail. The captain insists to know who they are, as 'the consortium' has promised them exclusive rights to study this star as it collapses. The Magpie simply says that he and the others are 'tourists.' But according to the captain, there aren't supposed to be any tourists. Magpie says there aren't supposed to be any researchers. The captain raises an eyebrow and asks "Says who?" (IIRC, the Magpie responds by putting them on 'mute')

Eska quickly starts looking through the databanks for someone in this time period they could claim to answer to that would override this captain, so he can pass that info on to Galaxion and have Galaxion hit them with a whammy and send them on their way. Magpie is worried about leaving a footprint on history by sending them away only to have them discover that the star is missing when they return. While everyone debates how to handle this, alarms start going off on the other ship and the captain breaks the communications link.

Naturally everyone is like "Well, here we go." This is probably why there's no mention of the ship in the history, if they crashed into the star. But the group can also tell that this is one of those 'points in flux' where reality isn't going to break if they save the crew.

They pilot the TARDIS over to the Remora to save the crew from whatever fate is befalling them and if at all possible find some way to get them away from the star. They land in the cargo bay, disguised as a shipping container full of supplies. Before they go out there, there's a brief discussion over whether or not to save these people, because of the Ood slavery and all.[2] Galaxion, in particular, is unsympathetic (which feels a little ironic, but that's all I'll say on the matter). That said, in the end, everyone files out to hear a warning from the computer that the graviton stabilizers are at 23% and falling, and the captain suggests that people get to the escape pods.

Eska knows that this close to the collapsing star, that the escape pods are most likely a death sentence. Sure, there's a chance, but the best money is on them caught in the star's orbit, unable to escape unless someone comes by. So Galaxion uses his sonic screwdriver to hack into a communications terminal and use his powers of persuasion to send the crew all to their quarters and calm down.

The group splits up at this point. The Magpie and Dreamcatcher run up to the bridge to find it empty thanks to Galaxion's whammy. They hook up the Dreamcatcher's 'memory camera' to the ship's computers, planning on using it to blank the crew's memories of the last few months and replace it with a notion that the star was already gone when it arrived, like perhaps the black hole had eaten itself. They get to work on that.

Elsewhere, Eska gets to Engineering. He takes a look at the graviton stabilizers, which have degraded to about 17%, and determines that they've been... tampered with? By whom?

Driven by narrative obligation, he turns around just in time to find a redheaded human aiming a bolt gun at him. He barely dodges the shot, and she proceeds to go on a rant about how they all need to be drawn into the black hole and 'become infinite.' Eska, not having thought to bring his own weapon, yells back at her implying he agrees with her and also wants to dive into the black hole, so as to get Galaxion's attention down the hall. Galaxion catches up, sees her deciding whether or not to shoot again, and uses his mind control abilities to subdue her.

He reads her mind and discovers her name is Rae, and that she's the chief engineer for the ship. The short version is that over months of staring into the collapsing star, she slowly went insane and thought she was hearing voices. Maybe she was just the tiniest bit psychic and everything just set her off. Either way, no real greater cosmic evil or force at work as near as anyone can tell. Just someone went crazy, thought plunging into a black hole at the moment of its creation would let her become one with the universe, and decided to share. When the ship unexpectedly made contact with strangers, she triggered it early. And in her madness, she resisted the command to stay in her quarters.

Galaxion tries to mentally stabilize her enough that she can get home for proper treatment while Eska is reminded that the graviton stabilizers are at 12% and at 9% will become unsalvageable. So he quickly gets on repairing and restoring them. After that, the group doctors some logs, makes it look like a gamma ray burst from the collapsed star damaged the ship and knocked them out, and sets the ship on autopilot for the nearest inhabited system while they all return to their TARDIS.

So back to stealing a black hole. The Magpie and Eska team up on the whole operation. First off, they put the TARDIS into temporal orbit -- basically set it to drift backwards in time at the rate that time normally moves forwards, like walking down an up escalator so you appear more or less stationary to onlookers. This basically freezes time outside the TARDIS so they can do the rest, timed to the moment when the star hits that collapsing point. Then they build the containment field, dematerialize the capsule, and rematerialize wrapped around the star. It's tense, everything's shaking and flying around -- they're reverse-engineering tech even more advanced than that they grew up with[3], and struggling with the gravity of a collapsing star isn't helping.

They manage to capture the star in the engine room and stabilize it. Lights that have been slowly but steadily dimming for a while suddenly slam back on at full. The console lights up, the column pumps a few times almost as if excited. The Magpie, shakily, pulls out an actual cigarette to put in his cigarette holder-disguised gadget (which is like using a sonic screwdriver to actually drive screws) and smokes it. The Dreamcatcher takes a picture of the captured star.

There's also a brief discussion on what to name it, as it's not really the Eye of Harmony. The Magpie, not having considered that, is caught off-guard. Because of the name of the star, Eska wants to call it the "Celestial Hook." Galaxion suggests "The Source." They eventually decide to come back to the name of it later. They all get together to take a group picture in the engine room to commemorate the moment, during which the Magpie realizes that the gravity coming off the star is messing up his hair.

But to take their newly revitalized TARDIS for a spin, they hit the randomizer. And awaaaaay we go!

[0]-- We really need a name for this. I don't want to just say 'group' or 'the characters' over and over. Cabal? Cohort? I dunno. Taking suggestions.
[1]-- The galaxy, as I imply by including the Wikipedia link, is real. The star is made-up, though its name does fall in line with Chinese astronomy designations.
[2]-- It's worth noting that while the characters don't necessarily know of the Doctor's involvement, they do know from the recorded history that the humans of the Second Great and Bountiful Human Empire don't know that the Ood have been effectively lobotomized into slaves, and that less than a century after this particular incident they'll all be freed.
[3]-- The original Eye of Harmony was created by some very powerful Time Lords from the ancient times -- Rassilon, Omega, and The Other. The RPG system has a 'tech level' scale that goes up to 12. 'Modern' Time Lords (like my player characters) sit at a 10, while Ancient Time Lords are at 11. Which means, among other things, there's dice penalties involved. (For scale: 20th/21st Century is Tech Level 5, societies start developing time travel at all when they're at Tech Level 8, and the Daleks are Tech Level 9. Tech Level 12 is reserved for The Eternals, which are practically the Doctor Who equivalent to the Q Continuum from Star Trek.)

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